Wednesday 3 June 2015

Land acquisition legislation II:
Why do we need to discuss Land Acquisition Amendment Bill?

It is now widely acknowledged, even within the Government and the BJP, that the attempted amendment of the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 has proved to be a crucial political watershed. It has given an occasion to the moribund opposition to unite on an emotive issue. The Indian National Congress, which had decisively lost the public mandate, suddenly got an opportunity to arise from the dead. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi leading a walking procession of nearly the entire parliamentary opposition to present a memorandum to the President against the amending ordinance and bill will perhaps go down in history as the defining visual image of the politics of this period; just as Srimati Indira Gandhi riding an elephant to Belcchi in August 1977 to commiserate with the families of the landless Dalits massacred by the Kurmis has gone down as the defining image marking the beginning of her comeback after the Emergency. The Government has managed to squander enormous political capital on this issue. It has also managed to dampen the enthusiasm of a number of affiliated organisations of the RSS, working among the farmers and the tribals; they are finding it difficult to defend the amendments among their constituents.

This government has come to power as an answer to the prayers of all the nationalist people of this country. All of them, not only the members of the BJP or the RSS alone, have a stake in this government. This government must succeed and stay, if the Indian nation is to rise and manifest its unique genius once again in the modern times. When this government came to power, a very senior and venerable political scientist of India called me to explain the importance of this victory. He said that the victory marks the coming back of the Hindus into the mainstream of the Indian polity. Until Independence, the Hindus occupied a significant space in the polity, largely because of the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi conducted his campaign for Independence in a deeply Hindu ambience; the language, symbols and instrumentalities of his campaign were all reminiscent of the Hindu tradition and Hindu ways. After Independence, however, Nehru purged the Hindu ways from the mainstream of Indian polity; the Hindus became second class citizens in their own land. The coming to power of the Modi government marks the end of this recent period of eclipse of the Hindu ways in the public life of India. But, he emphasised, that for this revival to become permanent, this government must survive for at least 10 years. And, he said, it is the duty of all nationalist Indians to do everything within their power to ensure that this government does not falter.

The government seems to have clearly faltered in its attempt to hastily amend the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. In the process, it has given an impression that it is concerned about only a narrow spectrum of interests and does not really care for the peasantry. This impression is perhaps erroneous; the opposition has certainly worked assiduously and viciously to propagate this impression. But right or wrong, the impression has gone through and in politics, perceptions matter more than reality.

The situation is being worsened by the unseemly tenacity with which the government is pursuing the amendments. After all it is not usual that the same ordinance has to be repromulgated thrice in a row. The actions of the government on this issue are contrary to the repeated assurance offered by Shri Modi during his election speeches that he would govern by consensus; he repeatedly said that he as the Prime Minister would be representing every individual member of the Parliament and not merely the MPs of his alliance. His repeated assertion that he would relegate politics to the fifth year of his term, and for four years he would try to take everyone along, came as a breath of fresh air in the deeply fractured and adversarial polity of India. The issue of land acquisiton has unfortunately brought that fractured adversarial politics to the fore again.

It is important that these fissures are quickly healed. The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act are not significant enough to risk any change in the mood of great hope and expectation that has come to prevail with the coming to power of this government. The government should rethink the amendments, decide on what are the minimal amendments required to make the Act of 2013 workable, and try to evolve a consensus around them.

We are starting this discussion on the core issues concerning the Land Acquisition Bill to help arrive at a reasonable and widely acceptable solution on this contentious issue. From the next post onwards, we shall talk about the significant amendments proposed in the amending ordinance and the bill one by one. We hope to have a wide-ranging, lively and fruitful discussion on each of these.
                                                                                                                                                              — Dr. J. K. Bajaj

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